Sunday, November 25, 2012

A dream

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I broke my seated practice due to work obligations and the requirement of rest from work this past week.  

I had a dream last night.  In the dream I found a secluded forest clearing, late at night, drew a circle, lit candles.  My heart beat faster and my eyes widened in the dark.  I recited an incantation from a book that had been unopened for a thousand years.  I spit and screamed into the moving black, the woods rustled around me.  The night had a thousand eyes, the shadows spiraled around me and enveloped me.  They took me from that place, behind the mesh.

Something led me down a glowing strand of spiderweb, pulling up my feet as they stuck, keeping me moving.  The strand would swell, a glowing boil would pass all the way down, intersecting with some other strand, passing, continuing on its way to I could see not where.  The web seemed infinite with no horizon in sight.  I saw, however, places where the strands ended.  Like looking through an overlay, the strands ended each into the top of a human head.  From each head a steady stream of glowing ichor caused the strand to swell as it moved across the web seeking the center.

It got darker as we moved, like the light was running away, we moved towards the center.  Faster and faster, like leaping boulder to boulder, mountain to mountain.  I gradually became aware of a towering figure in the center, a figure we were speeding towards.

Tall and towering, made of thousands of human bones that shifted and shuffled at strange angles, growing and shrinking, breaking and building, like watching a thousand lifetimes begin, grow and end. Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva.  All sinister in one ever changing form.  Its head, composed of millions of mutating, moving human skulls, mouth open, each strand entered here.  This awful behemoth swallowed every swollen drop.

I understood that as children some retain the ability to see that all time occurs simultaneously.  That past actions, future actions and present actions all mingle on the surface of the object of time.  Agents of this archon get most of us prior to birth, installing a horrible pranic parasite.  This brain worm draws vital awareness, limiting our perception and aiding our belief in linear causal time while feeding this awful entity.  It was beyond dream-me to figure out if there was any other function than feeding occurring here.  There were other webs, I knew, somehow 5th dimensionally orthogonal to the one I was standing on.  Maybe I stood here because my fight was with this parasite, but then what went on above and below?

I woke up with a sore on my lip and a dry and scratchy throat.

This dream somehow comforts me.  Reminds me not to dread the end of a Sunday for the oncoming Monday.  That what I engage in, this moment, has more importance than what my brain speculates, or what it laments.  My battleground, currently, lies here.  Slowly, I draw the line.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Stop the brain

The brain interprets incoming sensation (I hesitate to say all sensation).  For this gross understatement to contain functional truth neuroscience tells us that although we have the very vast majority of our 10 billion + neurons on board by the time we are born we constantly alter their connections to each other.  Each of our sensations ends in the halls of memory and prior sensation. These connect, almost stochastically, to complete the experience of sensing which then gets stored in order that it may be recalled and connected to in the future, by incoming sensation. 

Most developed systems of meditative practice have similar aims.  To still these processes of neural phenomenological interpretation so that only the process of processing remains.  In other words the brain experiences itself in its natural state, without interpreting incoming sensory information.  To this end various death postures and corpse postures build the habit of pratyahara or withdrawal of the senses.  Turn the senses in on themselves and send them back to their source. 

It could be argued that while our interpretation of sensory information has many flaws due to its being processed through memory and emotion, the information we receive from the outside world via our receptors has its root in some type of objective truth, or objective reality.  Any of our sensory perceptions enter the body, they pass through a complex relay mechanism en route the brain. 


In order for visual information to have a neural interpretation a visual stimulus must first pass through the cornea, and lens and into the retina.  Here it works its way through the photoreceptive cells (rods and cones). Each individual rod and cone can be connected laterally as they connect to their bipolar cells allowing for a large variety of ‘choice’ (or noise) at this early stage.  Next the signal generally passes through bipolar cells, ganglion cells, photosensitive ganglion cells and finally to the optic nerve for transmission to the brain.

This transmission doesn’t have a dependency on generating a threshold of current called an action potential to transmit information to the brain, there is a constant flow of electricity through this set up to the brain, but the current has gradation, more stimulus=more current. 

The signal passes through the optic nerve into the optic chiasm.  Here fully half of the information received is passed to the contra lateral portion of the brain from its site of reception.  From here it passes up the optic tract and into the lateral geniculate body, where it finally gets passed to the visual cortex in the occiptal lobe for processing.  Whew.  Even here the information gets divided between the primary and secondary visual cortex depending on whether it requires clear interpretation or can be classified in terms of movement, shape, position, etc with the result sent to the cerebrum so action can initiate from the motor control areas.  A phenomenally long trip from eye to interpretation.


This much shorter trip starts with the outside of the ear or ‘pinna’ which funnels vibration to the middle ear where the maleus, incus and stapes vibrate causing the ear drum to vibrate and transmit to the inner ear.  In the inner ear the information travels through the cochlea, vibrating the organ of corti (which lives inside the cochlea).  In the organ of corti the vibration then causes the movement of tiny hair cells.  This movement initiates an action potential which then travels up the auditory nerve, which joins the vesibular nerve, which joins the vestibulocochlear which connects to the cochlear nucleus in the brain stem.  From here to the superior olivary nucleus, then to the inferior colliculus, the medial geniculate body and finally the auditory cortex in the temporal lobe. 

Importantly the location of the temporal lobe lies distinctly closer to the anatomical position of the ear then the eyes do to the occipital lobe (which lies in the back of the head).  The trip from ear to primary neural interpretation site has less length than does the trip from eye to primary neural interpretation site.

Both of these examples oversimplify for the sake of brevity.


To empirically experience the difference in pathway length between these two senses and their interpretation grab a ruler and have a friend hold it at the one inch mark just above your thumb and forefinger which should be ready to catch it.

For the first part: keep your eyes open and have your friend drop the ruler, catch it as soon as you see it fall.

For the second part: close your eyes and have your friend say “go!” just as he or she drops the ruler.

Keep in mind how many 1/8s of an inch passed between the visual initiation and your ability to catch the ruler and compare this with how many passed between the auditory initiation and your ability to catch the ruler.

Even the best lip reader in the world has a non-zero rate of failure.  Interesting things happen when these two senses get crossed and one tries to do the work of the other.  When a person sees lips moving with no sound, these movements get interpreted through experience and 'best-guessing' within the brain, the result often has some internally created sound that often bears no resemblance to the sound those moving lips would make.  Just as pronunciation conventions often change from country to country and each visual representation of phoneme can be interpreted in a variety of ways specifically in the untrained.  

When both common audio and visual misinterpretations are exploited and combined we get the McGurk effect.  If a video of lips mouthing one particular sound is combined with a different sound, the human interpretation will have a third new sound with no bearing in the reality of the actual sounds recorded in either the video or the audio.  Just goes to show how little we can know from the outside world.  These examples give some credence and importance to the theory that knowledge about actual reality beyond our brain's interpretation of phenomenon happens through quieting the senses.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

IX Personal Ruminations on the Hermit

As a child I spent an inordinate amount of time incapacitated by various illnesses.  The walking variety of pneumonia a few times, mono in the fourth grade, strep throat at least once a year until the age of 17, at 7 a joint infection that kept me literally off my feet for several weeks (for fear it would go septic I assume).  At 1, an intestinal parasite that certain evidence indicates may have persisted into adulthood.  Or perhaps two bouts of the same parasite, one defeated at a young age, the other onset at 13.  I have early, clearly amalgamated memories of dire illness, a feeling of wasting in bed, and of giving up hope for normalcy, sometimes life.  I also have memories of playing outside and exploring the woods, forging friendships that persist to this very day.  Somehow I managed to socialize well enough.

I spent much of my time in imaginative distraction.  Solitude suited me.  Sometimes.  What began as another uncomfortable intractable illness would chain me to my bed and slowly close the shutters soothing me with fevered visions and dreams until I no longer knew the outside existed.  My room was an 8' x 5' space crammed with a writing desk, a bed, a small cupboard and a television.  A luxurious hermit's cell.  I have several memories of laying in bed, looking out the shuttered windows and speaking to these bright yellow lights that talked back.  Likely running a high fever.  I went to catholic school for 9 years of my childhood, so it comes as no surprise that these lights identified themselves as angels.

At 13, I became so ill my death seemed certain.  The onset was sudden and it became a long wasting illness that wouldn't be identified until much later.  It wasn't as dire as cancer, but it hit pretty hard.  I was unable to keep food down, then water, then a viscous dark green substance was coming up, then blood.  A few weeks later I'd feel a little better, go to school for a couple days, then descend again.  I dropped weight.  By the middle of my eighth grade year I weighed 85 pounds and people in class would gasp and remark in a hushed whisper at how skinny I had become.  Somehow I lived through months of this, praying for death constantly.  I got close to that grim specter, lost my fear of it.

At 19 I developed pain so bad and so prevalent that everything burned like a great white light.  The summation and culmination of all the evil spirits that attempted to destroy my body throughout the course of my life.  I was prescribed heavy narcotics, and a cocktail of antidepressants.  I went mad.  I withdrew from life again.  This time I fell deep into a dark abyss that threatened to consume me completely.  And it did.  One morning, a year later I began to spastically vomit and, after a couple days, landed in the hospital.  I ran a very high fever, had wild visions and hallucinations, I refused all medication, except what they dripped into my arm.  It was a lot like the movie Jacob's Ladder.  I left, I think, a week later, reasonably recovered.  The demon hiding, not slain.

At 23 the pain returned, but this time I was driven to defeat it squarely and root it out completely.  I hung from a tree every day, practiced difficult and painful yoga practices and meditative visualizations. I directed all obsession (commonly encountered when confronting demons) to compulsively photographing everything and posting it on the internet every night.  I worked by intuition.  Somehow I got past the guardian of the door and into the abyss.  For months I maintained very little contact with the outside world as my body and mind began to heal from not only this intensive bout and confrontation, but also from a lifetime's worth of illness, regret, depression, despair.  By the beginning of my 24th year I only suffered the residual effects of such a terrible passage and began to build a life from the ashes.  I maintained a strict, thrice daily, seated practice until the age of 25.

I still prefer to remain internal, and in solitude.  I resemble the hermit in practice. Now I spend my days practicing the things that helped me gain life and vitality and banish nefarious internal processes.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Memory Hopscotch

In the Tibetan Book of the Dead, during a specific stage of death, the psychopomp attempts to soothe the horror of the listener's departing entity when they visually encounter wrathful figures  with 12 arms and 12 legs.  These wrathful figures, the listener is reminded, are actually a virtue contained in themselves, a clear light.  When I visualize these figures, I tend to relate them to the pathways of memory, winding, labyrinthine neural structures with arms that reach everywhere, irrevocably altering and effecting everything they contact.  Memory ultimately fuels personality by way of indicating which habits have favorable results (lead to the release of pleasant chemical combinations, or produce states where unpleasant chemical combinations are no longer released).  What we experience alters and changes our processes.  Particularly during moments in time where an individual has a high sensitivity to imprinting.  In fact, imprinting events tend to affect many classes of later formed habits and potential actions.

These synapses have a high vulnerability to alteration, but meaningfully and willfully altering them either takes some degree of fortunate or 'lucky' circumstance, or many years of regular and seemingly tedious practice.  A fortunate circumstance would possess a critical mass of factors that either directly relate to, or are highly symbolic of, the same number of factors in the original circumstances surrounding the initial imprint or memory.  Years of meditative practices, particularly those involving the objective observation of the process of mind and a heavy emphasis on visualization practices can bring mental pattering to a similar state.  The former has fewer components of deliberate mindfulness and therefore a higher potential for a non-favorable outcome in the untrained.  Quiet and deliberate practice in directing the mind leads to a more disciplined outcome in either case.

Theoretically, when, through many hours of mindful practice, these imprinting or habit-forming events that occurred on some date previous to the present can project lucidly and clearly into the infinite space behind the eyes, a very powerful sympathetic magic can occur.  During this state the practitioner can play act within their own memory and alter not only their reaction to the event, but also change the way they participated in the event.  If an invocation to imprint vulnerability, performed just previously to this strong visualization, showed measurable signs of success then the memory of this evoked event will permanently change to adhere to the freshly visualized alterations.  If the preceding invocation did not achieve success, and continues to fail, then the end of altering the imprint requires many more subsequent successful visualizations.

Perhaps my work with children combines easily with my own memories of youth, but those memories, long buried, have crawled and clawed their way to the surface and into my field of vision with a reliable frequency.  The one that showed up this week occurred in Kindergarten.  The current version of the memory involves a young girl, a nun named Sister Julia, and me.  When someone raised their hand in class and had difficulty spitting out a correct answer, this teacher would look around the room and say "Can anybody help him/her?" before calling on someone else who would then give the correct answer.  We were each individually engaged in a math assignment, something having to do with circling groups of numbers in a specific pattern.  A girl in class was having trouble and the teacher asked me to help her.  I have no memory of how this came about, only that she specifically emphasized my helping her.  I did what most humans at 5 years old, only possessing those two basic pieces of information, would do.  I gave her the correct answers.  Sister Julia came over while I was in the middle of giving the girl the last two correct answers.  I remember circling a 5 and a 9 in some versions of the movie, and a 5 and a 3 in others.  She was infuriated by what she saw, pulled me aside grabbed and gripped the tops of both ears between pointer finger and thumb.  Then she pulled up hard.

In some versions of the memory my feet leave the ground, in others they don't.  I buried this memory, but not in the conventional way.  After I was about 15 I experienced no discofort talking about it, but I refused to re-experience it or reframe it.  In this way I convinced myself that it had no effect on me.  This, such a great conceit.  It began to come up in my seated practice every once in a while in my mid twenties.  When I experience the internal movie now  I no longer experience the pain of the event  and I no longer feel shame afterwards, just the wind at the top of the icy mountain.

Although, the we cannot change the things that occurred in our histories, the past has an equal flexibility and plasticity to the present, particularly through the lens of consistent practice.